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UN calls for $80m to avert Red Sea tanker disaster


UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations on Friday urged donor countries to provide $80 million for an emergency operation to remove one million barrels of crude oil from a tanker moored off the coast of war-torn Yemen since 1988, which could explode or leak, causing major environmental impact. disaster in the Red Sea and beyond.

David Gressly, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, launched the appeal saying the FSO Safer tanker is “a ticking time bomb” because a major oil spill would “trigger a massive ecological and humanitarian disaster centered on a country already decimated by more than seven years of war.

“Without funding for the next six weeks or so, the project will not start on time, and this ticking time bomb will continue to tick,” he said.

In early March, the United Nations and Houthi rebels in Yemen signed a memorandum of understanding after years of talks authorizing a four-month emergency operation to remove the immediate threat by transferring oil from the tanker Safer to another vessel. In the longer term, the memorandum of understanding provides for the replacement of the tanker Safer by another vessel capable of containing a similar quantity of oil within 18 months.

Gressly, who signed the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the United Nations, said the emergency oil transfer from the Safer must begin in early June and end in late September to avoid the turbulent winds and currents that begin in October and continue over the past few months. of the year which increase the risk of rupture of the tanker and for the transfer operation.

“Waiting beyond that could mean delaying the start of the project for months, leaving the ticking time bomb spinning,” he said.

The Houthis control Yemen’s western Red Sea ports, including Ras Issa, just 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) from where the Safer is moored, and the UN has been negotiating with the rebel group for years trying to get the tanker examined by experts. this.

Gressly said a UN-led mission in March to the Ras Issa peninsula, near where the Safer tanker is anchored, confirmed that it is rapidly decomposing and beyond repair, and that ‘is at imminent risk of a massive oil spill due to leaks or an explosion’. .” As an example, he said, “the inert air used to inhibit explosions is long gone.”

A skeletal crew of around half a dozen remain on the tanker Safer and have done “heroic work over the years to keep this thing from collapsing”, but he said but there’s a limit to what they can do “with virtually no resources”.

The Safer tanker is a Japanese-made vessel built in the 1970s and sold to the Yemeni government in the 1980s to store up to 3 million barrels of export oil pumped from fields in Marib, an eastern province of Yemen which is currently a battlefield. The vessel is 360 meters (1,181 ft) long with 34 storage tanks.

Gressly said the UN has estimated the cost of the emergency operation at $80 million, which includes the rescue operation, hiring a very large vessel to transfer the million barrels of crude oil, as well as payments for the crew and maintenance of the Safer for 18 months.

The Netherlands, which has been a major player supporting UN efforts, will host a pledging conference in the first half of May, he said.

Gressly said he will lead a mission next week to discuss the plan and seek support in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Kuwait.

He said fundraising for the replacement of the Safer tanker must also start now.

While a final cost hasn’t been set, Gressly said it would likely be “on the order of magnitude of, say, $25 million” for a used vessel that is likely no longer suitable. for transporting crude oil but still suitable for oil storage. He explained that any vessel will need to be modified as it needs a large piece of equipment which is attached to the bow of the vessel which connects it to the pipeline.

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